The ‘SMART’ way of assessing the sustainability of English and Welsh farms.

Monday 02 January 2017

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SEARCHING FOR GARDEN OF EDEN IN AGRICULTURE BLOG

Immo and Alfréd blogged during their field work and you can find out what they got up to! 

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five |

PROJECT NAME

Holistic sustainability assessment of farms in the UK managed according to Permaculture principles and compared to certified organic and conventional farms using the Swiss SMART indicator system (Sustainability Monitoring Assessement RouTine).

RESEARCHERS

MSc student Alfréd Szilágyi (Szent Istvan University, Gödöllő, Hungary) and Research Fellow Dr Immo Fiebrig (CAWR).

PROJECT OBJECTIVES

Establishing sustainability related benefits of agriculture according to Permaculture principles within a setting of farming for subsistence, community wellbeing and for commercial purposes compared to other well established systems.

SUMMARY

The project represents a replication of a study carried out in Hungary earlier this year. In the UK we assessed 21 different farming systems, mostly productive enterprises. The assessments entailed both, an in-depth interview with the farm manager and a farm walk. Farm performance was assessed holistically taking into account indicators related to ecologic, economic and social sustainability on farms ranging from smallholdings to larger arable systems. They were located in England (London, Midlands, East Anglia and South West) and Wales (South and Mid Wales). Data analysis is still ongoing but from a first look at it we find that small-scale alternative (organic or permaculture) farms tend to score better within many dimensions of sustainability as opposed to conventional producers; farms committed to Permaculture principles tend to attain the highest scores. The methodology still has to be reviewed in terms of its explanatory power. However, the entire project seems to us like a long-awaited pioneering start on putting figures to Permaculture's potential benefits and achievements using an integrated peer-reviewed assessment tool.

IMPACT

Supporting data showing the benefits of alternative farming systems and their contribution to e. g. climate change mitigation, soil conservation and regeneration, conservation of biodiversity, improvements in social wellbeing and financial resilience using an internationally deployed sustainability assessment tool (SMART).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

To the Permaculture Association UK and the Organic Research Centre Elm Farm for their support in finding adequate research sites; to all the farmers for their support, openness and patience when showing us their farms during a very busy period of the year and for answering the many questions posed by the interviewers Alfréd and Immo; to the Forschungsinstitut für Biologische Landwirtschaft FiBL (Frick, Switzerland) for making SMART available to research; to the Centre of Agroecology, Water and Resilience of Coventry University and the EU funded ERASMUS Student Mobility Scheme for indispensable financial support.